With T-day not too far away, here are some Turkey tips I'd learned the hard way, constantly haunted by the first and only time my parents roasted one in Kuwait. After 12 hours in the oven, the poor fowl came out with a charcoal crisp exterior and an icy solid cavity. Promptly tossed, it makes for those recurring kinds of thanksgiving nightmares.
1. If you're using a frozen turkey, buy it at least 10 days before. Anything more than 20lbs should thaw in the refrigerator for about 1 week to 10 days. I like to get the bigger ones because that means more leftovers but usually we dont end up with much.
2. Do yourself a favor and buy a turkey with the pop up thermometer. There's usually a picture of the push-pin like thermometer on the wrapper. And while you're in the section buy a large turkey brining bag.
3. Make sure you thaw the turkey completely 24 hours before you plan to cook. I prefer the slow refrigerator method of thawing but there are many other faster ways described online-- ways I havent tried and cant vouch for.
4. Brine and roast method: I'm not a pro by any standards but this method got me the most approval with the least effort.
5. Brine recipe : For a 20 lb bird:
2 cups of kosher salt
1 cup of sugar (2:1, salt:sugar ratio)
3.5 gallons of water
1 head of garlic, cut into half crosswise (lay garlic head on its side and saw into the entire thing with a sharp knife)
4 bay leaves
4 stalks of thyme
4 rosemary stalks
1 handful of peppercorns
1 handful of allspice
1 handful of juniper berries (optional)
Throw all ingredients into a gigantic stockpot and bring to a boil till sugar and salt dissolve. Cool brine completely. Place turkey (with giblets removed) into the brining bag (look at point 2.). Get someones help to hold the bag while you pour in the brine slowwwwwly. Close the bag, nice and tight and throw it into the fridge for at least 12 hours.
6. Roasting something bigger than your head:
Now you are free to rub anything you want on the bird-- its yours to eat and do with it as you please. But butter, salt and pepper was all I needed to get the right balance of crispy skin and juicy meat. The problem with getting too fancy and using fresh ginger, garlic or herbs is that they get burnt (especially if the bird is huge and its going to be in for 5-6 hours) and you end up fighting with the smoke detector more than cooking. So my suggestion is use logic-- if the ingredient by itself turns into charcoal in 5 hours in the oven it probably will do the same thing on a turkey. Keeping it simple seems to be the best way to go for the turkey. Save your creativity for the gravy!
Also, its absolutely crucial to get a proper roasting pan with a rack. I didnt see the use of a rack at first but its really important so the back of the turkey doesnt get soggy and nasty. My pan is really cool, once the rack with turkey is off, I can just transfer the pan with turkey drippings onto the stove to make gravy. Not possible with disposable alumnium roasting pans!
2 sticks of butter softened
Handful of Salt and ground pepper
Cooking time guide (Approx 15 mins/lb)
Get out your roasting pan and rack. Preheat oven to temperature suggested in the cooking guide above. Remove turkey from the brine bag and rinse the bird thoroughly (dont forget the cavity). Spread butter, salt and pepper generously all over the turkey, under skin and cavity too. Place turkey on the rack in the pan. Use aluminium foil to tent the entire pan, making sure there are no openings. Cook the bird covered for 75% of the suggested time, for eg, if the cooking guide suggests to cook your bird for 4 hours-- cook it covered for 3 hrs and uncovered for the last hour or till the thermometer in the bird pops. Once the turkey is done remove the rack, place it on a tray, cover it up with foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes to let the juices redistribute. In the meantime make gravy.
So thats it, my tips to a perfect roasted turkey! Do let me know how it turns out!